Other nights, you're in, but putting a huge effort into the meal is out of the question. Either way, quesadillas fill the bill.
But not just any old quesadilla, because with just one extra step, you can have an extravagantly flavored quesadilla that I am proud to say, is of my very own creation. And even though I've shared it before, I've never described its evolution from a humble roll-up to unique treat.
It came into being several years ago, when our sons were still in the house. Whenever I would heat flour tortillas for them -- for a healthy snack or for a full-blown dinner -- I would sprinkle a bit of shredded cheese onto the tortilla's hot surface.
Naturally, some of the shreds would land in the skillet instead of on the tortilla. I loved how those pieces of cheese would immediately turn to a golden, delectable crunch, which I would peel off once the skillet had cooled.
Indeed, those accidental tidbits were always my favorite part.
So one night I decided to make an entire pan of them, which in itself is not new. Cuisines throughout the world have explored the fried cheese maneuver.
But my unique twist was that while the cheese was just beginning to melt I placed a hot flour tortilla right down on the bubbly-melting surface. Then I stood back and simply waited for the cheese to carmelize and brown.
In the process, it attached to the underside of the tortilla.
By the time I scooted a spatula under the entire affair to flip it, this cheesy layer had merged right onto the tortilla, creating a golden, crunchy-cheesy surface.
As a family, we loved my Golden Quesadillas. And as a cook I came to recognize their potential beyond the fast and flavorful holder of fillings. I would cut them into wedges and serve with salsa, sour cream and guacamole for a quick appetizer.
Ditto, as a garnish for soups and salads.
Or, certainly, as a simple snack with no condiments needed.
Consider this fast and tasty concept for your autumn-into-winter meals to come.
Once you've made a batch of Golden Quesadillas, the direction you take with your filling is entirely up to you and the contents of your refrigerator and pantry.
As you would expect, I've got my own ideas about what would turn this meal on its head (In a good way!), and I'll provide some detailed recipes below. But really, it's not rocket science, and in that spirit, encourage you to be free-wheeling.
In fact, when it comes to getting a decent meal into your kids, it's always more fun to simply set out bowls of ingredients and let the gang build their own creations. Perhaps the following ideas will help you with that approach.
1. Grated Monterey jack, salsa, black olives and finely shredded fresh basil leaves.
2. Grated mozzarella, crumbled and cooked chorizo or sausage, finely chopped sweet bell peppers and green onion.
3. Browned ground beef or ground turkey (fried with onions, ground cumin, and Worcestershire), diced tomatoes, pickled jalapeno slices (Mezzetta makes a "tamed" version. Look for "Deli-Sliced Tamed Jalapeno Peppers."), shredded lettuce, and sour cream,
4. Grated cheddar, roasted mushrooms (see recipe below), crisp fried bacon, fried or scrambled eggs, and chopped sweet bell pepper.
5. Strips of cooked chicken, pesto, Swiss cheese, pine nuts.
6. Cream cheese, salmon, capers and slender slices of sweet red or white onion.
7. Pulled pork or beef brisket, barbecue sauce, diced tomatoes, finely shredded carrots, chopped celery.
8. Fried or boiled shrimp, avocado, sour cream and cocktail sauce (whisked together 1 to 1 ratio).
9. Drizzle your favorite creamy dressing over rice, black beans, salsa, avocado or guacamole, green onions, and freshly cooked corn kernels.
10. Roasted vegetables (your choice, but consider onions, garlic, sweet peppers as a base mixture, adding whatever else your family would love), crumbled blue or feta cheese, and fresh tomato slices.
11. Shredded cabbage, grilled fish, and dressing of choice -- such as a creamy ranch or a zesty tomato vinaigrette.
12. The leftover turkey maneuver: Face it, you've got plenty of Thanksgiving turkey the days after, so using it in a Golden Quesadilla is a brilliant maneuver. Consider pairing it with grated Monterey jack, salsa, black olives and finely shredded fresh basil leaves. Hold the dressing!
Jan's Golden Quesadillas
For each quesadilla, you will need:
A non-stick skillet large enough to accommodate the width of your flour tortillas
About 1/3 cup of shredded Sharp Cheddar (or Monterey jack, or medium-sharp Cheddar)
1 8- or 10-inch flour tortilla
Desired fillings, (see recipes that follow, or simply assemble an array of the traditional fillings, such as diced tomato, salsa, guacamole, cooked chicken or ground meat, chopped flank steak or sliced skirt steak, sour cream, taco sauce
Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until it becomes very warm to the touch. Sprinkle the shredded cheese directly onto the surface of the pan, spreading it out to cover the approximate diameter of the tortilla.
Lay the tortilla on top of the cheese and press it gently into the melting cheese (this helps the cheese adhere to the tortilla). Let the tortilla sit, undisturbed, in the pan for about 30 seconds, to give the cheese a chance to brown, then gently test it around the edges by sliding your spatula under the tortilla and lifting slightly to see if the cheese has turned golden and is adhering to the tortilla.
Once this has happened, then go ahead and slice your spatula completely underneath the tortilla and flip it over to brown the plain side of the tortilla, then slide the tortilla onto a plate.
Arrange the desired fillings down one side (if you only want to fold the tortilla in half), or down the middle (if you're planning on a burrito-style wrap. Enjoy!
For feeding several folks, it's a good idea to have two pans going at the same time.
Roasted mushrooms in soy vinaigrette
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup red wine vinegar (or rice vinegar)
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves peeled and minced
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
2 pounds crimini mushrooms (or a mixture of button and shiitakes), trimmed and halved
2 green onions, white and tender green parts, finely chopped for garnishing
Other garnishes that work well with this filling: sour cream, chunks of cooked chicken or pulled pork)
In a large re-closeable bag, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, sherry, Dijon mustard, garlic and sesame oil. Add the prepared mushrooms, seal the bag and shake to distribute the marinade. Let the mushrooms sit in the marinade for at least 30 minutes.
When ready to roast, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly oil a large shallow roasting pan. Transfer the mushrooms and the marinade to the pan, arranging the mushrooms in a shallow layer. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the mushrooms are nicely browned, stirring or shaking the pan occasionally for even cooking.
You can prepare the mushrooms up to 24 hours ahead and reheat in the microwave before serving.
Makes enough filling for 4 to 6 quesadillas
1 cup finely chopped carrot
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup shredded Cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
3 tomatoes, cored and diced
1 sweet bell pepper, cored and chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped green onion
1/2 cup shelled and roasted sunflower seeds
3 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped
1 or 2 ripe avocados, seeded, peeled and diced
4 Golden Quesadillas (recipe above)
Raita Sauce (recipe follows)
Red or white wine vinegar
In a bowl, combine the carrots, celery, cheese, tomatoes, peppers, green onion, sunflower seeds, eggs, and avocados, tossing to mix thoroughly. The filling can be prepared several hours ahead and refrigerated. To serve, let each person arrange the filling in a prepared quesadilla, then garnish with the Raita Sauce, and perhaps a drizzle of vinegar (which adds a nice whang).
Makes enough filling for 4 quesadillas
RAITA SAUCE: In a small bowl, combine 1 peeled and finely chopped cucumber, 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion, 1 cup plain yogurt, 1 cup sour cream (regular or low-fat), 2 teaspoons cumin powder, salt and pepper to taste. Adjust seasonings. And if desired, add a drop or two of soy sauce to round out the flavor (really!).
Makes a scant 2 3/4 cups.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit," and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at email@example.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.
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